I represent a lot of fathers. Dads. Dads working for at least a share of the custody of their children, in and outside of divorce actions.
Every dad, though, who walks into a courtroom, or a mediation, or any other kind of proceeding has a problem from the get-go: television and movies.
Popular culture, really. Fathers in popular culture are a bumbling nightmare of stupidity, ineptitude, un-involvement, outright neglect, dimness, borderline cruelty, and so much more. Think about the most prominent fathers in TV and movies over the past fifteen years or so, dramas, comedies and everything in between.
Homer Simpson is … well, he’s Homer, an entire archetype to himself after twenty-something years. An idiotic (but funny) father who usually refers to his youngest child as ‘the other one.’ Remember Hal from Malcolm in the Middle? Bryan Cranston was the epitome of the hapless father. Powerless, guileless, naïve, a bundle of nerves … pretty much the complete opposite of Cranston’s next role as a father – Walter White.
It goes on, the father in Jimmy Neutron was the definition of the oblivious, Ray Romano’s character in Everyone Loves Raymond was as incompetent as he was irrelevant, Peter Griffin in Family Guy, is just plain appalling; Tony Soprano was an always on the job absentee-father whose brief interventions with the kids almost always involved the threat of corporeal punishment.
In 2013, Huggies ran an ad based on this theme, the copy: “To prove Huggies can handle just about anything, we put them to the toughest test imaginable: dads alone with their babies.” The inference was clear and straight out of the worst father movie ever made, Mr. Mom – men alone with children have all the makings of another Love Canal.
Fathers in popular culture can, admittedly, be funny. But, they give the impression that beyond the incompetence factor, fathers are pretty much non-essential, inconsequential – the kids do just fine regardless…or even in spite of their dads. How did we arrive at the point where dads are the easy target for comic relief?
It’s all entertaining but it doesn’t help me or my clients. It has permeated our culture and while certainly not overt, you can almost feel it when a father moves for more than every-other weekend.
It’s there, it has to be overcome, it’s not that hard with proper backing from my clients. What do I need from them? Simple: don’t act or talk or appear like any of the fictional characters above. Be there, be involved, and do your best. That easy.